If you are a good-hearted person, it is natural to want to please others. As one who seriously considers the feelings of those around you, you likely engage in several selfless and kind behaviors that benefit your loved ones and strangers alike. Whether you bring cookies to your elderly neighbor, offer an empathetic ear to a distressed friend, or allow a harried mom to step in front of you in line at the grocery store, your attempts to contribute to others' happiness and well-being are noble and laudable.
But sometimes, it is possible to take it too far. If your desire to please others is stronger than your need for self-care, your people-pleasing ways may negatively impact your well-being. If, for example, you felt pressured to spend all weekend helping a friend move—but as a result, missed an important work deadline on Monday—then your job performance may seriously suffer. Or, if you stayed up all night on the phone with an upset friend (who said you were the only one who understands her), you might not be able to concentrate on that important exam scheduled the next morning.
When you go too far, allowing your own self-care to take a back seat to others' needs, you will likely become frustrated, exhausted and discouraged. And when you regularly disregard your own wants and needs to appease others, you may even experience chronic stress and other health problems.
So, what can you do to address your own needs while showing kind consideration to others? How can you strike a healthy balance between selflessness and self-consideration?
1. Start to recognize your people-pleasing behaviors. Change is not possible without awareness. Pay attention to the choices you make to please others: If your colleague asks you to take on some of her tasks, do you do it because you don’t want to tell her “no”? If your mother asks you to come by for dinner after work—even though you just wanted to go home and relax—do you go anyway so you don’t let her down? Or, if the waitress gives you the wrong dish, do you eat it anyway so you don’t inconvenience her? If you find yourself appeasing others in this way, don’t judge yourself. Simply notice. Determine how often you make choices to please someone else despite what you really want to do and make a note of it.
2. Notice the consequences of your choices to people-please. When you dropped everything on your list to do something for someone else, what happened to the things you wanted to get done? How did you feel emotionally? When you said "yes" and really meant "no," how did that work out for you in the long run? Did you end up having to attend meetings you didn't want to go to? Were you exhausted because you didn’t get the rest you needed?
3. Ask yourself, “How willing am I to change?” Change is only possible if you are willing to embrace it. Would you like to adjust your people-pleasing behaviors so that you can take care of your own needs more? How might this impact your quality of life? Your desire for more control over your life must exceed your need to please others.
4. Increase your internal focus. If you are a people-pleaser, how others see you and act toward you strongly impacts your feelings and sense of self. With such a dominant external focus, it is likely that you are not in touch with your thoughts and emotions or your physical and spiritual needs. Committing to change involves increasing your internal awareness of these things and intentionally stopping and tuning into what you want. What were your plans for the day? Did you really want to be on that committee?
5. Catch yourself in the act of people-pleasing. As you become more aware of your motivations, try to catch yourself before you say “yes” and mean “no.” Notice if you are more concerned with what the other person is thinking than what you need. If so, redirect your focus to yourself and consider your needs. Don’t judge yourself and have compassion as you are learning to change a difficult habit.
6. Learn to live with not always pleasing others. This can be challenging. People-pleasing is all about having others like you, think well of you, and be pleased with you. To risk removing these sources of self-identity and self-esteem can seem like an impossible task. Reassure yourself of your worth and the importance of meeting your needs. Remind yourself that you want to find a better balance between your self-care and the needs of others. Then, be prepared to let the other person have their own feelings of disappointment or judgment – and resist the temptation to try to change or fix their feelings.
7. Learn to live with pleasing yourself and meeting your own needs. When you do this, you may find that you are not on a community board you didn’t want to be on, that you have some time to relax after work, or that you don’t have to eat a meal that you didn’t want in the first place. By taking your own wants and needs into consideration along with those of others, you will discover that your life has changed—for the better.